Local soldier saves lives through organ donation

Gundersen Health System says 12 organ donors saved 30 local lives last year

There are more than 120,000 people in the United States waiting for an organ transplant to save their life.

Last year, Gundersen Health System was able to save the lives of 30 people from our area thanks to organ donations from 12 different people.

However, the need continues to grow.

Here’s the story of one brave man who decided to give his life in more ways than one.

“I was pretty much on the speed dial from the principal. I got a call once a week,” said Jo Amunrud, mother of Sam Amunrud.

Amunrud’s only son, Sam, wasn’t necessarily a school kind-of-a-guy.

“Sam was a very challenging child which I am sure all of his teachers would agree,” said Amunrud. “He would argue all day long but he wouldn’t get angry… he would never give up… never give up.”

So it should come as no surprise that when it came to what Sam wanted to do with his life, he wasn’t about to give up on that either.

“He wanted to serve his country. He always wanted to be a soldier,” said Amunrud. “We tried to talk him out of it because we knew he was smart. We said we would pay for everything, but he wanted the Army and I am glad that he did because that is where he was meant to be.”

Amunrud Sam excelled in the military by quickly making a name for himself.

“His leaders described him as Zen like. He was so calm making decisions and he could calculate charges very easily,” said Amunrud.

However, Sam was only eight months in when his journey in the military came to an end. At the age of 19, Sam had a brain aneurysm and died in February of 2014.

“(It was a) very difficult time. And having to make that decision was more difficult; whether or not we wanted him to be an organ donor,” said Amunrud. “Even though I truly believed he was gone at that point and didn’t need his body that he had, it’s still your baby.”

However, when Sam signed up for the military and agreed to give his life for this country he meant it in more ways than just one.

“The transplant coordinator came to us and said would it help if you knew what Sam’s wishes were and we said well of course. So she showed us a picture of his driver’s license and he had elected to be an organ donor, so that made the decision for us. We respected his wishes,” said Amunrud.

According to Gundersen Health System, one donor can save eight lives through the gift of donation.

“That’s with heart, liver, kidney, pancreas so you are going to cure diabetes, cure cystic fibrosis for a patient who has lung disease or heart failure,” said Melissa Revels, the organ and tissue donation coordinator at Gundersen Health System.

In Wisconsin alone, there are more than 2,000 people on the transplant waiting list.

“It continually increases, kidneys are the No. 1 organ in need and we are seeing that number continue to rise and so it’s always going to increase,” said Revels.

However, over the past 2.5 years, Revels has noticed the number of people signing up on the donation registry increased too.

“When you go to the DMV and you sign up to be a donor, it puts you on a state registry so when you come to the hospital we are aware of your donor status in a situation you would be eligible to donate,” said Revels.

Unfortunately Amunrud said that situation came too soon for her son Sam but she said she is proud of her son and for the life he had chosen to live.

“As far as a very short life, he made two very big decisions: one was to serve his country and the other was to be an organ donor,” said Amunrud.

Mayo Clinic Health System has a different set of parameters. Last year they had one person who was able to donate everything, while others donated their eyes or other organs. They did not have a total number of donors at this time.

For more information about becoming an organ donor visit donatelife.net.